This study aimed to investigate the time course of disappearance of the mRNAs of the various subunits of inhibin in follicles which become atretic. An animal model was used in which atresia of preovulatory follicles could be studied in a chronological order. Injection of gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH) antagonist (20 microg) at the morning of pro-oestrus (P) blocked ovulation and the 10-12 preovulatory follicles became gradually atretic. A second injection was given the next day to prevent delayed ovulation. The rate of atresia could be delayed by simultaneous administration of a subovulatory dose of human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG) (0.5 IU) and could be advanced by administration of a fivefold larger amount of GnRH antagonist. Functional activity of follicles becoming atretic was studied by measuring oestradiol production after incubation of individual follicles for 4 h. Follicles isolated 24 h after the first injection of GnRH antagonist (P+24) already secreted significantly less oestradiol in vitro than follicles isolated at pro-oestrus, although they were morphologically not different from pro-oestrous follicles. Follicles isolated at P+24 from hCG-treated rats secreted more oestradiol compared with follicles from rats not treated with hCG. In contrast, follicles isolated at P+24 from rats that were given a fivefold larger amount of GnRH antagonist secreted less oestradiol. Once this model was validated, temporal changes in inhibin subunit mRNAs in follicles undergoing atresia were measured by in situ hybridization and RNase protection assay. In situ hybridization showed abundant alpha- and betaA-subunit mRNA in the whole granulosa layer of preovulatory follicles at P and P+24, while betaB-subunit mRNA was restricted to the antral layer and cumulus. At P+48 the amount of alpha- and betaA-subunit mRNA had declined and was restricted to the cumulus, whereas betaB-subunit mRNA was absent. In the atretic follicles present at P+72 and P+96, mRNAs of all three inhibin subunits were absent. Administration of 0.5 IU hCG delayed the decline in the amount of alpha, betaA and betaB mRNA in preovulatory follicles at P+48. RNase protection assay of inhibin subunits in isolated follicles revealed no changes between P and P+24. However, at P+48, the mRNAs of alpha- and betaA-subunits were decreased. Expression of the mRNA of betaB-subunit declined gradually from P to P+48. The present study demonstrates that in follicles which are becoming atretic, mRNAs of alpha- and betaA-subunits decline simultaneously with the appearance of pycnotic cells in the granulosa layer, while betaB-subunit mRNA declines earlier, simultaneously with the decrease in the ability to secrete oestradiol in vitro.
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